Jacques entered the lounge dining room and sat down to join her two comrades, d'Artagnan and Ramon. Seeing how oddly they stared at Ramon's platter, she leaned in to take a closer look. Wrinkles creased the bridge of her nose. "What is that?"
Her question spurred the food connoisseur to stab his chunk of meat-like garniture and tepidly place it into his mouth. Chewing and swishing the mysterious entrée, he assessed the sample.
"We don't know," d'Artagnan piped up. Her handsome comrade flicked his eyebrows at her in a flirtatious manner. "Ramon's trying to figure it out."
She shook his flirtation off with a quirked smile, then turned her attention to Ramon.
Swishing the flavor about in his mouth, he said, "Tastes like… Well, it kind of has the flavor of…" The Spaniard gulped the bite down then looked at his comrades with a blank face.
He wasn't sure.
Determined not to eat her own until she had Ramon's opinion, Jacques husked up her best male voice and pointed at his plate. "Maybe, if you took another bite."
"Yes, try it again." D'Artagnan prodded with his fork. His own plate remained untouched before him. "If you're not sold on this new dish, I certainly don't want to eat it."
Jacques gave him a scolding look for his poor manners, then turned to Ramon.
"What did the chef say was in it?" she said. Her eyes darted between the two men. "Have either of you asked?"
The Spaniard's gaze turned ceiling-ward in thought. "Señor Hormel claims it to be his family's secret recipe."
"He doesn't know what it is then." Jacques turned to d'Artagnan for confirmation.
"Apparently not." The Frenchman wagged his fork at her with a raised flirtatious brow.
Just then Siroc entered the dinning room and joined his comrades. Observant, as Jacques had been, that Ramon's platter was the center of attention, he drew in close to the source. A frown grew on his face. He plucked d'Artagnan's wagging fork from his hand and prodded the meat-like cube.
"What is it?" he said, echoing Jacques' earlier question.
D'Artagnan leaned over Jacques to whisper. "Like I was telling Jacques…"
She punched him in the arm to move him back into place.
"Ow!" He grabbed his arm as though she'd injured him. "I was just trying to tell Siroc that Ramon is trying to figure it out."
Everyone's attention turned to Siroc. With method, he scrutinized the subject. "Light pinkish brown material—most likely from animal flesh—minced and jellied into blocks—accomplished, no doubt, by polymer agents. Finer slivers detached from the larger brick and seared over the fire, served with eggs?" He finished his classification with more of a question mark than conclusion, and a blank look at his friends.
Jacques broke the awkward silence. "Ahem. I have a feeling this dish won't be making such a hit." She rose from the table, her untouched plate in hand. "Not while people still enjoy knowing what they eat."
Ramon washed the residual pieces of meat down with his drink. "Maybe in the future, when people have not time to cook…"
"Or have taste buds,"d'Artagnan interrupted.
"Si, amigo," said Ramon. "That's the only way people will settle for this substandard, imitation carne."
Jacques drew her mouth in a tight line and pushed herself back from the table. "I just can't see it catching on." She flinched at the sight of the mystery meat then rose to leave. "Anyone want to join me at the Café Nouveau?"
The others gave their platters a final look then scrambled from the table to take Jacques up on her offer.